Local Christian and Muslims groups gathered Sunday in southeast D.C. at America’s Islamic Heritage Museum to mark the second annual National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
The event is an interfaith collaboration that brings together faith communities together to counter stigmas and provide safe spaces for those who are living with HIV. The barbecue-style cookout provided free HIV testing in a vehicle provided by Sasha Bruce, pamphlets on STD prevention and free condoms to those in attendance.
Khadijah Abdullah, founder and executive director of RAHMA, the coordinating organization, began the annual event to reach out to Muslims with HIV and expanded to reach out to various faiths.
Islamic Relief and the District of Columbia Center for AIDS Research (DC CFAR) were the sponsors for the event.
On its website, RAHMA — Arabic for “mercy” — says its mission is to address HIV/AIDS in faith communities through education, advocacy and empowerment. According to the D.C. Department of Health, the highest rates of D.C. residents with HIV are in Ward 8.
But the faith community has at times been a barrier to HIV/AIDS prevention, with some churches shunning awareness campaigns.
Physician Mary Degezia, who was at the main table to assist people with getting tested Sunday, said that she tried to reach out to a church with brochures to educate the older population about HIV and was declined. A representative for the church told her they do not have this problem with their congregants.
To counter such resistance, Abdullah coordinates safe spaces for people of different faiths to come together to discuss HIV/AIDS. In some circumstances, people cannot afford to travel to different parts of the city where these opportunities are taking place.
Abdullah also encourages faith communities to set up their own HIV ministry to educate their congregants and have testing available at their health fairs.
“If you are going to serve, you have to go to the people,” Abdullah said.